When browsing through Digg this morning, I came by a story at PCpro UK entitled “Boycott ad-blocking Firefox, urges furious web designer“. This gentleman stated that, Software that blocks all advertisement is an infringement of the rights of website owners and developers.”
While I don’t like giving press to such a story, I found it alarming on many levels.
Firstly, I’ve never heard of rights of website owners and developers. Being a “website owner and developer” myself, I understand that the web is a dynamic medium. Moreover, I think of HTML as what it is – a markup language. It just tells a program (browser) how to display something in a user-friendly style. I test my pages with Lynx, and expect them to conform to HTML/1.1. In other words, I believe that the Internet is an information distribution tool. I expect, I *want*, my content to be viewable by as many people as possible. I try to use simple markup and make use of ALT tags so that as many people as possible will be able to view the content. I want it to make sense on as many platforms as possible. I want people who need accessibility aids to be able to understand it. In short, I want my content to reach as many people as possible.
Not only is this developer trying to do something which is ignorant and a case of being a flat-out bad citizen of the ‘net, but he is trying to fight against the progress which has so painstakingly been made in the field of web standardization. I well remember when, not long ago at all, I was handicapped by my choice of using Firefox. I still come by the odd site which chose to use a component which is tied to Internet Explorer, thereby alienating 35% of web users.
I will admit that I am by no means the typical Internet user. The fact that all of my some dozen or so machines (excepting one which I need to use a legacy SCSI flatbed scanner) run 100% Free/Open Source software. I use Linux. OpenSolaris. BSD. I believe that I have a right to examine and modify the source code of the programs that I use. When choosing a bug tracking system, I spent hours customizing an open-source alternative because I was unwilling to use the closed-source option which seemed to fit best. Therefore, I guess it is easy to understand that I refuse to buy from, or even visit, a web site that doesn’t support Firefox.
This is not a browser war. This is not me simply deciding to flame someone who isn’t a F/OSS zealot. This boils down to a deeper issue that can be seen all around us – including in the recent news surrounding the US FCC’s auction of a portion of the 700MHz spectrum. The issue at hand is the complacency of technology users, and the feeling by technology providers that they can push anything they want on users. The concept that providers are sending data to me, and that I can use that data however I want (within the extent of the law) is getting lost.
When I watch TV, I used to leave the room or pick up a book when a commercial comes on. Now that I have a PVR (specifically, MythTV), I can record the shows I want, and then have commercials flagged for automatic skipping before I watch them. When I decide to watch them, I have no commercials. When I use the web, I select the content that I want. If I don’t want it, I don’t get it.
Moreover, another large issue at hand is the simple nature of digital media. This applies to TV recording, music and movie sharing, software piracy, etc. Digital media is not the same as analog media. An MP3 (or, for that matter, a CD) is not the same as a tape. In product litigation, there is a term known as “perceived use”. If you make a glass coffee table that is exactly at knee height, it is perceived that eventually, someone will try to sit on it. That’s common sense. If it shatters and kills them, it was your responsibility to foresee such an obvious eventuality. It’s only common sense that if something is flat and at normal sitting level, someone will try to sit on it.
Likewise, I would argue that when any content is distributed digitally, you must foresee that it will be copied or altered. It is simply the nature of the medium. If the recording industry didn’t want people ripping music from CDs, they should have kept releasing things on tape. Even more so with DVDs – I’m sure we all remember the push. Five years ago, I was hard pressed to find a DVD in a local rental store. Today, I haven’t seen a VHS tape in years. The industry *pushed* the format on us, and is now complaining when we use it in a brutally obvious way. If I had to liken it to any legal phenomenon, I would pick entrapment. It’s not a far stretch to compare the recording industry’s actions to those of a police officer who leaves a car running, with the keys in the ignition, and a sign on the windshield that says “Take me for a spin around the parking lot” and then arrests someone for auto theft when they leave the lot. If they industry is worried about piracy, it should have been their obligation to look into exactly how easy piracy would be, before they chose a distribution medium.
In closing my rant, I will ask a few simple questions:
1) Why is it that the law, being as biased to corporate interests (and against the individual) as it is, doesn’t recognize the rights of the individual to use what they legally purchased in a way that they see fit? (i.e. if I buy a DVD, I should be able to make a backup copy on my computer – even the *copyright law* states that).
2) How long will it be before someone turns up an internal RIAA memo from ten years ago stating that the industry could increase its’ profits by releasing music on a medium (CD) that is prone to piracy, and then fining the people who exploit that common sense?
3) When they came out with VHS recorders, the industry was up in arms about piracy. So, they got together and added a small amount on the price of every blank tape, intended to reimburse the labels/artists/networks for the copy that it would be used to make. Why can’t they just tack $3 onto every blank DVD and CD, $20 on every blank hard drive, and stop suing college kids?